OSAKA – On the day after her release, Keiko Aoki, 51, along with her de facto husband, Tatsuhiro Boku, 49, visited the grave of her daughter, who was killed at age 11 in a fire in 1995 for which the two were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The Osaka High Court on Monday ordered their release following a decision to reopen the arson-murder case.
Aoki said that she has prayed for her daughter Megumi every month on the day of her death. She had said publicly that she wanted to offer prayers at her daughter’s grave in Nara Prefecture as soon as possible, preferably immediately following her release.
Aoki was accompanied by her 29-year-old son, with whom she was reunited in the early hours of Tuesday in Osaka. He was unable to see his mother on the day of her release due to business obligations.
Dressed in black, Aoki offered sunflowers, her daughter’s favorite, at the grave site and spoke about the court’s decision through tears.
“I’m sad I couldn’t see my son grow up,” she said, and burst into tears recalling the parting with her then 8-year-old child.
“So good, it’s so good to see you; I would do anything to regain those 20 years we lost,” Aoki told her son.
“Welcome back,” he responded, embracing his mother.
Aoki walked out of prison in Wakayama Prefecture at around 2 p.m. Monday, dressed in yellow — the favorite color of her deceased daughter — and decorated her hair with a matching yellow clip.
“If the police had investigated the cause of the fire in the first place, I wouldn’t be here,” she told reporters. “I want to win those 20 years back.”
She has been separated from her son since the early morning of Sept. 10, 1995, when she went voluntarily to the police station. There, police obtained a confession that she had set her house on fire in a bid to receive insurance money.
Aoki recanted her confession before she was indicted and has since maintained her innocence.
“No matter how long they’re going to apologize to me, it will never bring the lost time back,” she said.
At a news conference in Osaka following her release, Aoki said she has mixed feelings about the court’s decision. While the Osaka District Court suspended the execution of the sentence and ordered a retrial in March 2012, she and Boku had to remain behind bars because prosecutors instantly appealed the decision to the Osaka High Court.
“I couldn’t eat and sleep, worrying I would need to face this nightmare once again,” she said. “I can’t feel relieved as I cannot be sure they’re not going to take me back to prison.”
She said she hopes to be acquitted soon and have her name cleared.
Meanwhile, when Boku, 49, was released from a prison in Oita Prefecture he was reunited with his 74-year-old mother.
The two, who also met in Osaka, regarded one another for about a minute before embracing tightly and sobbing.
“I’m so sorry for having caused so much trouble,” Boku said. “I can only believe (in good developments) and move forward.”
When he was released he was wearing a light blue striped shirt, buttoned up to the top under a black suit, with no tie.
“I’m so sorry I could not save you,” Boku said during the news conference, directing his words to Megumi Aoki. “Thank you for guarding me throughout all these years.”
Responding to reporters’ questions regarding his feelings about the deceased girl, he recalled the past tearfully.
“I arrived at a point where my fear and despair became too much for me to bear and I became helpless,” he said.
In a unique description of his emotions, he said his “heart committed suicide.”
Boku said he regretted the arson confession that led to his conviction but expressed gratitude to the lawyers and experts who “have done the utmost to help me.”
On his way to Osaka, Boku was thrilled by a sip of drip coffee prepared by one of his supporters, his first in 20 years.
“This is what real coffee tastes like,” he said.
But recalling the years he spent in prison, he said: “It will take time until I’ll be able to enjoy being free and open my heart, which has been confined during this fight in hell. But I hope each day will bring a sense of freedom, step by step.”
Last Friday, the Osaka High Court concluded the fire could have been accidental and that Boku’s confession to arson had lost credibility, endorsing a March 2012 lower court decision to grant the two a retrial.
Prosecutors objected to Friday’s high court decision and said they were considering filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.